Packed snow on the trail

My winter walks so far have almost all been on pavement, even though we’ve had plenty of snowfall. It was time to find a local trail and maybe give the snowshoes a workout. I headed for Horse Hill close to home.

It had been a few days since the last snowfall, so the Loop Trail was packed down. No snowshoes needed, although spikes were handy. The weather’s brought some thaw/refreeze cycles, leaving icy spots here and there. (I’m using a new set of StabilicersLite that I picked up at my local L.L. Bean outlet, having finally worn out my old YakTrax.)

A quiet walk in the woods was perfect at the end of a day spent in front of a laptop screen. Pavement wouldn’t have been nearly as refreshing.

Temps reaching 40° left a kiosk’s snowcap drooping at a rakish angle.

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A tree looked freshly girdled, probably by one of the beavers from the nearby pond. The tree beside it bore a few fresh marks, as though a beaver had sampled it and thought “nah…I like the other one better.”

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Horse Hill

Among the places to which I’ve returned again and again during this blog’s ten years is Horse Hill Nature Preserve, one of my favorite places in town.

dscf1098When I moved to this area thirty years ago, what is now the preserve was just a big undeveloped area with a sandpit in the middle. There was once talk of building a housing development in there. The development never materialized, and in 2002, the town purchased the property for conservation. As a community, we made a wise decision.

The area needed a lot of cleanup before it was ready for prime time, and we resorted to some creative maneuvers to get the job done. I remember going there with my son’s Scout troop on a hike. In the sandpit area was debris from the area’s days as an informal target range. Each Scout gleefully stuffed his pockets full of shell casings and carried them out. I can only imagine how many forgotten little brass pieces found their way into washing machines that weekend.

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My favorite season at Horse Hill.

Now, Horse Hill is a year-round spot for walkers, runners, and off-road bicyclists. Horseback riding is allowed, too, for equestrians who don’t mind taking their chances sharing a trail with bikes. As for being a nature preserve, Horse Hill’s wetlands and trees provide habitat for a variety of wildlife.

Horse Hill is popular enough that the town just tripled the size of the parking area, yet it never seems crowded once I’m more than five minutes from my car. Plenty of trails branch off from the main loop, so hikers aren’t concentrated in one area.

If you go, download a map first, and then have fun.

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Good snowshoeing here in winter.

 

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Horse Hill Nature Preserve

Like fall, without color

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If you peer closely at the photo, you’ll see ice on the this southern New Hampshire trail. I was in Horse Hill Nature Preserve for an hour on the first of March for cryin’ out loud, and this is as close to winter conditions as I could find. A sign at the trailhead warned about muddy conditions, but I had no trouble in regular athletic shoes. Boots would have been overkill. A sweater and thin gloves were my only concessions to the weather.

My snowshoes remain in the basement. I know winter’s far from over, and I may yet this month rave about a beautiful day in fresh powder. That won’t be happening this week, though.

All the local paved trails are clear. Dirt trails have some ice in shady spots. Overnight freezes make for some interesting texture in muddy areas. On a Seacoast trip I took a few days ago, it felt like fall at Odiorne Point in Rye and Peirce Island in Portsmouth.

I haven’t investigated the auto roads up Pack Monadnock and Mt. Kearsarge lately, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were in good condition for pedestrians with light traction aids. Let me know if you’ve scouted out those paths.

 

Clock shift

Daylight Savings Time is over, cutting into my late-day trail time. All I ask is just enough daylight to enjoy a leaf-covered trail without twisting my ankle.

So far, so good. I’m sharing Horse Hill with lots of neighbors who are trying to fit some outdoor time between work and dinner, including a fair number of mountain bikers. The preserve is large enough that I don’t feel at all crowded, even when the parking lot’s full.

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Parking lot: full. Trail: all clear. Horse Hill Nature Preserve, New Hampshire.

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My favorite tree along the way. It’s survived some rough weather in recent years.

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It’s been a dry autumn. I barely needed the bridge to cross this little stream.

A foot of powder? Yes, please!

Horse Hill Nature Preserve, Merrimack NH. Ellen Kolb photo.

Horse Hill Nature Preserve, Merrimack NH. Ellen Kolb photo.

We’ve had two snowfalls in my area in recent days, both nice fluffy powder. I was one of the first hikers since yesterday’s snowstorm to walk through the nature preserve nearby. It was a lunchtime trip and I had less than an hour, but with the preserve less than three miles away, I couldn’t pass it up.

I met only a couple of fellow hikers on the way.  Like me, they were wedging a walk into the workday. They looked as relaxed as I felt. Aside from our greetings to each other, things were pretty quiet. I would hear aircraft approaching the regional airport to the north and the community airport to the south and the corporate helipad nearby, and then all the flights would be over for a few minutes and I would hear nothing but the wind in the bare trees. Those are the bonus moments.

This made a good break in a day when too much was racing through my mind. Today is the web site launch for another project of mine, and I am at the mercy of my techie-pro colleagues. I’m baking for a holiday celebration. (Food is love where I come from.) Christmas is next week, and I feel the loss and separation from some of my loved ones more keenly now than at other times of the year. The car needs work. Real life is in high gear, in other words.

Hooray for high gear. It makes me appreciate low gear in snowshoes.

Leaves now past peak. Also: looking for Welch-Dickey info

I’m doing less leaf-peeping and more leaf-raking this week. My favorite part of autumn is here. The turning of the leaves is always magnificent in these parts. Once leaves drop, though, views open up, even on level trails. Crisp air, no bugs, abundant sunshine: I’m a fan. A half-hour walk at Horse Hill near my home yields a better day.

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A question for my New Hampshire readers: have you hiked the Welch-Dickey loop near Waterville Valley? A friend is joining me for a hike next weekend, and we’re going someplace new to us. Welch-Dickey is the most likely destination. I’m reading maps and trail guides, but I’d love to hear impressions from other hikers. Leave me a comment if you’d like to share your experiences.

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